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UK trial suggests drug combo extends life for melanoma patients

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Treating patients suffering from the deadliest form of skin cancer with a combination of drugs could help extend their lives, research has suggested.

Data presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress in Madrid showed that treating patients suffering from advanced melanoma with both cobimetinib and vemurafenib could prevent their disease from progressing for up to 9.9 months.

“This data could represent a significant step forward in the treatment of this disease”

James Larkin

That could help patients live longer, with those being treated with vemurafenib alone seeing their disease halted for 6.2 months.

The new treatment has been trialled on patients from 11 centres across the UK, including the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow and Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital.

Advanced melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer, with patients in most cases having a life expectancy of less than a year.

The number of people in Scotland diagnosed with the disease has more than doubled in 24 years, going from 506 cases in 1988 to 1,177 in 2012.

While vemurafenib tablets can potentially reduce tumour size, taking the drug in combination with cobimetinib can enhance anti-tumour activity in the body and delay patients becoming resistant to treatment, according to the drug company Roche.

Dr James Larkin, consultant medical oncologist at The Royal Marsden in London and lead investigator for the trial, said: “We are delighted to have been able to further explore the treatment options for patients with advanced melanoma.

Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

James Larkin

“This data could represent a significant step forward in the treatment of this disease,” he said. “The data shows that the combination of vemurafenib with cobimetinib prolongs progression-free survival significantly in comparison with vemurafenib alone.

“Not only that but it also shows that the side effects are generally manageable, which is incredibly important for our patients,” he added.

“Vemurafenib has been hailed as one of the biggest breakthrough treatments for malignant melanoma in the past 30 years and in just three years we have been able to make major strides in improving on its effectiveness as a treatment for patients,” said Dr Larkin.

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